Ashes Lost In The Mail

Ashes Lost In The Mail

A New York woman is suing the Walter B. Cooke Funeral Home in Manhattan because they returned her mother’s cremated remains to her via postal mail, and they were lost. What most people probably don’t realize is that sending cremated remains via postal mail is surprisingly common. A great many funeral homes receive cremated remains back from the crematory in this way, and use the postal service to get them back to the family in cases where the family can’t or doesn’t want to pick them up. In fact, the practice is  so common the USPS has guidelines about it: they must be shipped Priority Mail Express. And it’s one more reason to do plenty of research about what you want and think you need, before a crisis arises. After all, who would think to ask how cremated remains will be returned to a family?      ...

Planning is a luxury not everyone enjoys

Will you know when  it’s time to plan? Planning for the inevitable is necessary- even for those of us who are invincible. Lack of planning has implications extending way beyond wondering what kind of casket mom would have wanted. Over at the National Death with Dignity Center,  Nora Miller wrote a piece about how suddenly and quickly dementia can enter and change one’s life. Miller writes, “…there’s a whole separate set of decisions that must be made long before we develop the terminal illness that eventually requires end-of-life thinking. In some ways, these may seem even harder than some of the end-of-life decisions, since the subject of the decision is still present and may not consider it necessary for anyone else to decide for them.   Beyond immediate measures to ensure the safety of the person with dementia, there are concerns about how to determine when someone is unable to live on their own, how to pay for additional care, how to address  these life changes with  someone who is already frightened… and quite often the children who are suddenly making these decisions for their parents, are doing so without the counsel of their must trusted advisor- the person suffering. Miller had the very sound idea of including a letter written to herself among her other end of life plans, to be used if she ever suffered from an illness or accident which impaired her mental abilities. “Dear Me, no matter how much you think you are okay right now and all those around you are not seeing things as clearly as you do, trust me when I say...
A heartbreaking search

A heartbreaking search

The BBC shared a beautiful and heartbreaking story about two Japanese men who took up deep sea diving, with the sole intention of finding the bodies of one’s wife and the other’s daughter, who disappeared following the Tsunami over four years ago. “I want to search for my daughter as long as my body allows me to. If I just give up, there’s zero chance. If I keep searching, I might have a chance at least.” Takamatsu feels the same way. “I want to continue my search as long as my strength lasts, even though the chances of finding her are slim. I know that she has already passed away, but I don’t want her to be left alone under the sea. “Honestly, I still want to find her and bring her home.” The presence of a body at a funeral, or the ability to bury or cremate a loved ones means different things to different families, often influenced by the manner in which a death occurred. While there certainly has been a trend in recent years which has seen more “direct” cremations- where a cremation takes place without any services- it’s not as universally true as many people believe. Another striking example was those who lost loved ones in the September 11 Terrorist Attacks. Many families felt they would not have closure until their loved one was returned to them. Some families wanted to be notified each time a personal item or body part was identified. Other families felt the regular notifications were too painful and didn’t want to be contacted until identification efforts were completed. Of course,...

Funeral Industry Fraud

A new report issued by the Federal Trade Commission or FTC found that funeral home fraud increased in 2014. According to a report on APM’s Marketplace, roughly 1 in 4 funeral homes failed compliance checks by undercover investigators. Those who fail have the option of training their employees in proper compliance through the National Funeral Directors Association, or face civil court action and fines.  Last year, a Westchester county funeral home paid $32,000 in fines for its lack of compliance. The FTC’s Funeral Rule is pretty straight forward: consumers must be presented with a physical copy of the funeral home’s General Price List before arrangements are made or discussed, must be provided with a Casket Price List before viewing and selecting caskets,  and must be provided with an Outer Burial Container Price List before viewing and selecting an outer burial container or vault. Prices must be disclosed on the phone by request, and consumers do not need to provide their name or phone number in order to get them. The Funeral Rule also prohibits funeral homes from packaging services such that consumers are forced to buy products or services they don’t want or need. For instance, if you choose to have a cremation promptly after death, with no viewing or other services, a funeral home can’t require you to purchase embalming or a casket. It was disappointing to see that the National Funeral Directors Association‘s response to this report was the rule is “complicated” and that it is “easy to slip up.” The FTC Funeral Rule was implemented in 1984. It is impossible to become a licensed, professional  funeral...

New York Hospice and Palliative Care

Hospice and Palliative Care in New York is a subject that can raise a  lot of questions and anxiety,  largely because they are so widely misunderstood. This fantastic article explains the differences between hospice and palliative care in New York and beyond. I worked with hospice and palliative care workers extensively, both as a funeral director and as a volunteer at  Francis House when I was studying for my grief counseling degree. I even interviewed a woman who was both  a midwife and a hospice nurse. By far, one of the biggest sources of frustration I found among those in hospice is that patients and their families wait too long to get hospice involved. There are myriad things hospice and palliative care nurses in New York can do, all of which are aimed at helping the patient live better and more fully in the time they have.  Frequently that includes unique forms of pain management so patients remain as lucid as possible, and sometimes it involves intense therapy, spiritual guidance and antidepressants so patients  can effectively deal with their emotions.  However, when hospice and palliative care is not called in until the last minute, frequently only a few days before the death, there simply isn’t enough time for them to do the many wonderful things for families that they can do. The palliative care portion of hospice and palliative care is frequently misunderstood- it’s simply finding ways to make the patient comfortable, regardless of whether they are dying or not. And yes, medicaid does help cover the cost of hospice and palliative care in New York. Many people who...